Vet's wine venture
becoming a sparkling business
Eagle City, Ia. - Ken Groninga passed a glass
across the counter, offering a taste of his cranberry
Thanks, but I don't really care for cranberries,
I told him. And I particularly don't care for sweet
wine. Cranberry wine surely must be sweet.
OK. I'll take a sip. Just to be polite.
Hey, wait a second. That's pretty good. Not that
sweet. Different. Really nice.
Now try the Merlot, Groninga said. Then some
Chardonnay. He makes it right here in Eagle City, in
Iowa's newest winery.
You say you've never heard of Eagle City? That's
all right. Hardly anybody has.
Eagle City was founded in 1850, the site of a
flour mill, a few houses and a stagecoach stop.
There are still a couple of houses here -
Groninga's and his son's - a nice little park and the
brand new Eagle City Winery.
You'd think a 63-year-old, semiretired
veterinarian starting a winery from scratch would be
fulfilling a lifelong dream. Not quite.
Groninga and his wife, Carolyn, like an
occasional glass of wine, but it never was any big deal.
Things changed when they moved to Eagle City and built
their log home a few yards from the banks of the Iowa
It's where the Ackley native hunted squirrels as
a kid and where he noticed the mulberries, raspberries,
elderberries, chokecherries and plums growing wild.
"I bought some books on wine-making and
decided to give it try," Groninga said. He began
entering competitions - the Clay County Fair, the Iowa
State Fair - and did pretty well. He ended up with five
gold ribbons - the highest honor in the State Fair's
In 1998, his chokecherry wine won the fair's Best
of Show prize in the non-grape category.
By then, Groninga was growing grapes on his
acreage. After five years of maturing, they're ready to
be mixed with the juice concentrate he has been
importing from Canada to make the five kinds of wine
Everything is done by hand - the mixing,
bottling, corking, even sticking on the labels.
The juice comes in five-gallon containers.
Groninga adds water, sugar, acids and yeast and puts the
mixture in stainless steel drums for a week or so. It's
then transferred to large glass jars to ferment two or
three more weeks, then transferred to another jug so the
sediment can be removed.
It's about eight weeks from the beginning of the
process until it is transferred to the bottles. The wine
is stored at least three months before it is labeled and
ready for sale.
Groninga has been selling wine for six weeks now
and has sold about 600 bottles.
He delivers Eagle City Wine to a restaurant not
far from here and drives a few bottles a week to the
liquor store in Iowa Falls.
"I'm hearing good things about it so
far," Groninga said. "I'm hoping to sell 4,000
to 6,000 bottles a year within 50 or so miles."
He's on pace for that already, without spending a
nickel on advertising and operating out of a facility
next to a winding, gravel road between Iowa Falls and
Ackley. It is, Groninga said, "10 miles from
(Call (641) 648-3669 or visit the winery's Web
site: 'eaglecitywinery.com' for directions.)
"I certainly don't consider myself a wine
connoisseur," Groninga said. "It's been a
self-education type of thing."
He is excited about the prospect of incorporating
his own grapes into the product. That will involve more
experimenting and more fun.
The sandy, rocky soil here is good for growing
grapes, and Groninga plans to plant more. Not that the
state of Iowa will offer any financial incentives to any
of its handful of commercial wine-making businesses.
"I asked about grants or loans,"
Groninga said. "The state encourages
diversification of agriculture and I thought maybe this
would qualify. I was told no, the state isn't
That's too bad, but it probably won't matter.
This looks like a business that will make it without any